GORTON, Sir John Grey (1911–2002)
Senator for Victoria, 1950–68 (Liberal Party of Australia)

John Gorton, the only Australian prime minister to come from the Senate, was judged variously to be ‘a national disaster’, who was ‘utterly unfitted for the post’; a man ‘ahead of his time’; and the leader who ‘could have been our greatest prime minister’. He was also described, with some accuracy, as the Liberal Party’s ‘only true maverick prime minister’.

John Grey Gorton was born on 9 September 1911, in Prahran, Melbourne. His father was John Rose Gorton, an orchardist, who had run a night club in South Africa and had escaped from the siege of Ladysmith during the Boer War, before eventually landing in Perth, Western Australia. His mother was Melbourne-born Alice Maria Sinn. His parents seem to have provided a stable and strong family environment though they could not marry, as John Rose’s wife, Kathleen O’Brien, from whom he was separated, refused to agree to a divorce. John Grey was the second of the two children born to John Rose and Alice, his sister Ruth living with Kathleen. John Rose and Alice resided at Edgecliff, Sydney, where John attended the local preparatory school. This secure existence ended when Alice died in September 1920, and John was sent to live with Kathleen and Ruth. Until that time, he had never met Kathleen, and believed his sister to be dead.[1]

John attended Headfort College, Killara, until 1924, when he moved to Sydney Church of England Grammar School (Shore). Academically unfulfilled, he left Shore in 1926, and spent several months working on his father’s citrus orchard at Kangaroo Lake in northern Victoria. Shortly afterwards he resumed his education, this time at Geelong Grammar School, where he remained until the end of 1930. Here, Gorton made his mark as a rower, athlete, footballer and debater. Gorton was influenced by the headmaster, James Darling, absorbing his message of social responsibility. Darling was impressed by Gorton’s personal qualities, but noted a capacity for obstinacy.

Throughout 1931 Gorton laboured on the family property at Kangaroo Lake. By the middle of the following year, he was attending Oxford University. He matriculated in England, not having done so at Geelong Grammar, and entered Brasenose College, where he studied French, political economy and constitutional law and history, and gained a blue in rowing. Soon after arriving in England, he acquired a pilot’s licence. On 16 February 1935, at St Giles’ Church, Oxford, he married Bettina Edith (Betty) Brown, an American student of languages at the Sorbonne. Later that year, Gorton completed his course with upper second-class honours, narrowly missing a first; his studies ranged from de Tocqueville to Pliny. He took his degree of Bachelor of Arts in absentia in 1945.[2]

Returning to Australia after several months spent in North America, the Gortons settled at Kangaroo Lake. Gorton aspired to become a writer (in later life he contributed verse anonymously to the Canberra Times) and was ready to take up a journalistic post with the Melbourne Herald, when his father’s failing health led to his taking over management of the orchard. His father died in August 1936, leaving a property encumbered with debt. By 1939 the Gortons had two young children and were absorbed in working to improve the orchard. On 8 November 1940 Gorton enlisted as a pilot in the RAAF. After training in England, he was posted to 135 Squadron, RAF, and then 232 Squadron, which was sent to Singapore. In January 1942 he suffered serious facial injuries when forced to crash-land his Hurricane on Bintan Island. The ship evacuating Gorton back to Australia was torpedoed and he and other survivors took to a life raft before being rescued. In June 1942 he was posted to 77 Squadron, RAAF, at Perth. The unit moved to Darwin, where Gorton survived another forced landing on Bathurst Island, and then to Milne Bay, New Guinea. While taking off from Milne Bay in March 1943, he miraculously escaped injury after his Kittyhawk crashed following engine failure. In April he was posted back to Mildura, Victoria, close to home. He became a flying instructor, and was promoted flight lieutenant in July. It was not until November 1944 that he received, at the RAAF Hospital, Heidelberg, proper surgical treatment for the disfiguring injuries he had received nearly three years earlier. Shortly after leaving the hospital, in December, he was discharged from the RAAF at his own request.[3]

On his return to Kangaroo Lake, Gorton resumed management of the orchard, run by his wife in his absence, and became fully involved in district sporting and social activities. He played Australian Rules football until his late thirties, participated in golf, cricket and tennis with ‘characteristic aggression’, while his informal, even ‘larrikin,’ style of dress and behaviour made him something of a local legend. In April 1946, at Mystic Park, the nearest town to Kangaroo Lake, where Gorton had become a member of the Country Party prior to the war, he spoke at a banquet to welcome home ex-servicemen. ‘We cannot expect’, he said, ‘to make a new and better world as the result of the exercise of brute military force’. The war had been fought to preserve democratic freedoms, and it was now necessary to build on that foundation. He wanted a society where ‘all children can grow up with sufficient space, and light, and proper nourishment’, and where ‘women may be freed from domestic drudgery’. He concluded with an appeal to build ‘a world in which meanness and poverty, tyranny and hate, have no existence’. Only in this way would the dead ex-servicemen be honoured. His carefully prepared address made a powerful impression on his audience.

Later that year he entered public life as a shire councillor for Kerang, serving until 1952. He was president from 1949 to 1950. In 1947 he spoke out against the Chifley Government’s bank nationalisation legislation. Recruited by Magnus Cormack, Gorton was a founding executive member, in 1949, of a new Victorian political organisation, the Liberal and Country Party (LCP). The LCP absorbed the former Liberal Party, but met considerable hostility from the Country Party. At the state Legislative Council elections in June, Gorton contested Northern Province against the sitting Country Party member, failing by just 392 votes. Chosen to fill third place on the LCP Senate ticket, Gorton was one of four LCP senators elected from Victoria at the federal election held on 10 December 1949, and took his seat on 22 February 1950.[4]

Gorton’s first speech to the Senate, on 1 March, began by referring to the ‘ominous shadow’ of communism ‘creeping down’ through China, and ‘threatening’ Malaya, Indonesia and northern Australia. In 1951 he campaigned vigorously for the Menzies Government’s unsuccessful referendum proposal to ban the Communist Party. He argued against official recognition of communist China, was a strong supporter of Taiwan, and took a considerable interest in defence matters, including advocacy of the importance of SEATO. Gorton drew on his memories of the 1930s to warn repeatedly of the dangers of appeasement, and kept dossiers on communists and those he considered communist sympathisers. He was always a nationalist and centralist. In 1951 he moved a motion stating that it was ‘undesirable for a non-Australian to have any substantial measure of ownership or control over any Australian broadcasting station’. Speaking in 1954, Gorton took the view that in a conflict between national and state outlooks, ‘the national outlook should always prevail’. In 1953 he published an article examining the role of the Senate. He concluded that it did protect the smaller states, performed a positive function in amending legislation, and served as protection against extreme measures emanating from the House of Representatives; but he also believed that the Senate should be deprived of the power to reject supply: ‘if it is to defeat a Government it should do so on a specific measure, not on general grounds of dislike’.[5]

Gorton was ambitious and thought highly of his own abilities. Asked his opinion of the other senators elected in December 1949, he responded: ‘Not much. I’m the best of them’. He took great care in the preparation of speeches. He was not always able to curb his natural inclination to respond vigorously, even aggressively, to a challenge. A perceived insult from Labor senator Don Willesee saw Gorton confront Willesee outside the chamber. While there is no definitive version of the incident, all accounts agree that Gorton threw a punch. His combativeness did not prevent him from enjoying good relations with some of the leading Labor senators, including Lionel Murphy. Gorton’s capacity for plain speaking in the party room did not endear him to Menzies, and he was regularly passed over for ministerial preferment. Barry Jones, later member for the Victorian seat of Lalor (1977–98), developed a friendship with Gorton during the 1950s, and noted that he ‘seemed to be aimless’ and often ‘expressed his frustration, his desire for a real job and his enthusiasm for reforming Australia, breaking away from conformity and obsequious deference to Britain and the United States’. He detested ‘yes men’ and ‘crawlers’. He and Jones exchanged books on American and Spanish history. Shortly before the election of 22 November 1958, Gorton endured a court case brought by the writer, Jean Campbell, who had been his father’s mistress. Campbell claimed that Gorton had wrongly deprived her of shares in the Gorton family company. Campbell lost the case.[6]

Promoted to the ministry as Minister for the Navy in December 1958, Gorton took to this ‘real job’ with gusto, mastering the fine detail of naval matters, and consulting well beyond the senior ranks of the department. He was prepared to argue strongly for his department in Cabinet and achieved practical results by securing new frigates, minesweepers, missile destroyers, submarines and helicopters. In 1959 he was given carriage in the Senate of the Matrimonial Causes Bill, which made divorce law uniform throughout Australia. Resistance to the legislation crossed party lines and Gorton won praise for his grasp of the subject, his clarity in explaining and defending the bill, and his patience in the face of impassioned opposition. Soon after his appointment to the navy portfolio, the Gortons purchased a house in the Canberra suburb of Narrabundah; Kangaroo Lake was left in the hands of a manager. In 1961 Betty Gorton enrolled at the Australian National University for a Bachelor of Arts degree. Graduating in 1966, she pursued postgraduate studies in Malay and Indonesian.[7]

Gorton held the naval portfolio until 18 December 1963. He also served as Minister Assisting the Minister for External Affairs (1960–63), Minister in Charge of the CSIRO (1962–63), and Minister for the Interior, which position he held for less than three months. In the Menzies and Holt governments, he served as Minister in Charge of Commonwealth Activities in Education and Research under the Prime Minister, and Minister for Works. More importantly, in the Holt Ministry he became the first Minister for Education and Science. Between 1958 and 1966 Gorton represented in the Senate a number of portfolios held in the House of Representatives: labour and national service, attorney-general’s, primary industry, external affairs, territories and defence.

A major task was the implementation of promises made by Menzies during the 1963 election campaign, which included, for the first time, capital grants and scholarships made available to non-government schools and students. He also worked with the states to establish colleges of advanced education, as recommended by the 1964 Martin Report. Such practical measures had no obvious connection with Gorton’s educational philosophy, which had found public expression as early as 1948. He argued that the primary purpose of education was not the production of a ‘fully competent technician’; rather, it was the quest for perfection through the encouragement of ‘goodness, beauty and reason’, informed by the study of history, literature and religion. These ideas probably had their origins at Geelong Grammar and Oxford, and were quite at variance with the rough and ready anti-intellectualism with which he was sometimes identified.[8]

On 25 October 1967, Gorton, who had been appointed Leader of the Government in the Senate nine days earlier, tabled flight records and passenger manifests for the RAAF’s VIP fleet. His dramatic and unexpected action defused a growing crisis for the Holt Ministry, caused by its refusal to release details concerning the use of the fleet. Gorton’s reputation was enhanced at a time when government senators and members were growing increasingly uneasy over the performance of the Prime Minister, Harold Holt. A significant decline in the coalition vote at Senate elections held in November lent greater urgency to their discussions. Gorton’s name was mentioned as a possible alternative. When Holt disappeared while swimming at Portsea on 17 December, Gorton’s supporters had a head start in organising support for his candidature. For the first time, television played a major part in the selection of a prime minister. With the support of Liberal backbenchers and a majority of Liberal senators, Gorton was elected as party leader on 9 January 1968, and was sworn in as Prime Minister the following day. He resigned from the Senate on 1 February, and was elected to the House of Representatives on 24 February at a by-election for the seat of Higgins, left vacant by Holt’s death.[9]

Gorton’s prime ministerial style was the subject of a considerable degree of speculation and analysis. As Paul Hasluck observed: ‘The longer one knows John Gorton the more difficult it is to make up one’s mind about what sort of man he is’. His manner was often engaging and informal to an extent rarely seen in someone in high public office. He once said that being a minister was very false and very lonely and that he missed chatting in a normal, friendly way. His casual approach could also shade into brusque, offhand abrasiveness, such as when he brushed past a deputation of pensioners with the comment, ‘All you want is more dough’. He liked to drink and smoke, and, as journalist Alan Reid wrote, ‘not only liked the company of women … but was sufficiently uninhibited to parade this liking’. Gorton was not always at his best within the more formal constraints of Asian diplomacy, his working habits could be irregular, and, according to the meticulous Hasluck, his ‘desk was a shambles’. Above all else, be it ascribed to arrogance, natural stubbornness or high self-confidence, Gorton chose to chart his own individualistic course, rather than rely on established routines or the advice of others. He took pride in this: his account of his stewardship, published in 1971, was titled, ‘I Did It My Way’, and his response to an admonition by Senator Gair that he should behave himself was: ‘John Grey Gorton will bloody well behave precisely as John Grey Gorton bloody well decides he wants to behave’.

Gorton’s ‘larrikin’ style made it too easy to overlook other aspects of the man. He was highly intelligent, with a forensic capacity to seize quickly the crucial points of a complicated argument, and Hasluck ‘marvelled’ at how Gorton ‘managed to do as much as he did when working the way he did’. John McEwen, a close and by no means uncritical observer, said: ‘I do not know of any Minister who studied his documents and papers more thoroughly than Gorton did’. This was not an isolated view. Gorton’s appearance also drew comment. Lean of build and of above average height, with a fresh complexion and blue eyes, much was made of the ‘rugged grandeur’ of his battered facial features. Biographer Ian Hancock says that Gorton was the first, and probably the only, Australian prime minister to closely resemble ‘the conventional image of the white Australian male of the Anzac tradition’. It is doubtful if Gorton saw himself in that way. In his early Senate days, he tended to deliver his speeches head down, rather than looking at his audience. When a colleague mentioned this, Gorton’s response was: ‘I don’t suppose anyone else round here is wearing as much of his backside on his face as I am!’[10]

Gorton was highly sceptical of the quality of advice available in some of the senior echelons of the public service, a view strengthened by his experience of the VIP flights affair. One of his first acts as Prime Minister was to remove Sir John Bunting from his post as secretary of the Prime Minister’s Department, replacing him with Lenox Hewitt, who had previously served Gorton in the education and science portfolio. Hewitt, tireless, capable and reputedly no respecter of Canberra public service mandarins, worked closely with Gorton. The appointment of Hewitt marked a new trend in Australian public administration. For better or worse, departmental heads could no longer regard their positions as immune to changes of government and, increasingly, such appointments would reflect the predilections of the government of the day. Hewitt’s role, and Gorton’s determination, despite the reservations of the Public Service Board, to appoint Ainsley Gotto as his principal private secretary, also marked the beginning of a steady increase in the power of the Prime Minister’s Department.[11]

Gorton’s mettle in the fields of foreign affairs and defence was tested immediately. On the day he was sworn as Prime Minister, Gorton was apprised of Britain’s intentions to withdraw all its defence forces from Malaysia and Singapore by 1971. Three weeks later, the shock of the communist Tet offensive marked the beginning of the process of American re-evaluation of, and withdrawal from, its military commitment to South Vietnam. Gorton now questioned the capacity of Australia and New Zealand to operate effectively in South-East Asia, and was worried that Australian forces might be drawn into local conflicts. These were reasonable concerns, but Gorton was criticised for a lack of precision in his public statements, including the suggestion of alternative ‘Israeli-type’ or ‘fortress Australia’ strategies. His performance at a Washington press conference in May 1968, where he was unable to say whether or not the USA had a commitment to assist Australia in Malaysia under the ANZUS treaty, was often quoted against him. Inadequate briefing in one case ought not to be confused with his habit of thinking aloud, including the expression of doubts and uncertainties in dealing with complex questions.[12]

As an economic nationalist, Gorton acted quickly to prevent a possible British takeover of MLC Limited in September 1968. He was a willing collaborator with McEwen in setting up the Australian Industry Development Corporation (AIDC), which was designed to utilise overseas investment in ways that would strengthen Australian companies, rather than facilitating foreign ownership. McEwen and Gorton also cooperated in organising the entry of Commonwealth shipping into overseas trade. Gorton, who understood the importance of overseas capital, was quoted as stating in August 1971 that there was ‘in the Treasury, an almost pathetic dog-like gratitude for foreign investment’. In September, he further justified the Government’s position: ‘We needed to preserve the greatest possible Australian ownership of Australian assets for the benefit of this and future generations’. In October 1968 he had acted promptly to take personal charge of discussions with Esso-BHP over the renegotiation of an agreement to fix the price of Australian crude oil. This was cited, then and later, as an example of Gorton’s failure to consult with Cabinet.[13]

Always a fan of the movies—his interest in Spain was, in part, stimulated by the 1942 film version of Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls—Gorton provided funding for planning to establish an Australian film and television school. He took an enthusiastic interest in the scheme, which eventually came to fruition under the Whitlam Government. He pushed for greater Commonwealth involvement in improving Aboriginal living standards. Committed to the principle of assimilation, he was not sympathetic to the concept of land rights, a view which hardened in later life. He was equally cautious in immigration policy, rebuffing a proposal from Immigration Minister Snedden to make residence requirements for non-Europeans the same as for people of European origin. He wanted only very gradual change in a racially based policy, believing firmly that to do otherwise would be to encourage social division and conflict. Gorton had long been a vigorous proponent of nuclear power, and, in 1969, approved plans, never realised, to build a nuclear power station at Jervis Bay.[14]

Writing in 1971, Gorton said that in cases where he could not act because of the ‘strait-jacket of the Constitution’ he had publicly questioned the validity of such a ‘hallowed’ belief in states’ rights. He wrote: ‘I put the creation of an Australian identity and national feeling, and the concept of a national benefit, as being more important than pandering to the susceptibilities of six provincial potentates’. The issue of states’ rights was a ‘hallowed belief’ for many Liberals, and Gorton’s attempts to protect the Great Barrier Reef from exploitation in 1970, by asserting Commonwealth sovereignty over offshore waters, aroused great resistance and resentment from within his own party.[15]

Gorton’s power base had never been especially secure. He missed the chance to consolidate it when he decided against a general election in late 1968, at a moment when the Government’s standing was strong and there was widespread expectation of a poll. He presided over a party that had been dominated by its founder, Robert Menzies, at a time, a few years after Menzies’ retirement, when the Liberals had begun to lose direction. Holt’s increasingly indecisive leadership had accelerated the trend towards discontent and factionalism in the parliamentary party. William McMahon (Treasurer until November 1969 and then Minister for External Affairs) nursed thwarted ambitions for the prime ministership, and was acutely attentive to any restiveness on the backbench. The published diaries of Peter Howson, one of Holt’s ministers whom Gorton had discarded, record endless cabals of those Liberals with grievances against Gorton. In addition to states’ rights, these grievances included Gorton’s failure to consult colleagues, the ‘socialistic’ nature of initiatives such as the AIDC, his equivocal attitude to the military commitment in South Vietnam, and, allegedly, to the American alliance. By no means least, there was concern at the Prime Minister’s personal failings, which were said to include laziness, drunkenness and a general incapacity for the job. Assaults on Gorton’s personal life achieved spectacular prominence when, on 20 March 1969, allegations were aired in the House of Representatives that, in November 1968, Gorton had turned up at the American Embassy in the early hours of the morning in the company of a young female journalist, later identified as Geraldine Willesee, the daughter of Senator Willesee. Irrespective of whether such tales damaged Gorton in the eyes of the public, they did resonate within the Liberal Party.[16]

Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War was an intractable problem for Gorton, and probably did as much as any other issue to leech away popular support from his Government. Gorton was unyielding in his condemnation of the ‘invasion’ of South Vietnam by North Vietnam, which he described, drawing a parallel with Korea, as ‘aggression by a communist government seeking to impose its rule by force’. When visiting Australian forces in Vietnam in June 1968, he disparaged protestors at home, telling the troops that for every ‘nut who carries a placard or sits in the middle of a road … hundreds of citizens … are thoroughly behind you’. Yet he was increasingly troubled by the effectiveness of the American prosecution of the war, and was unwilling to make any additional commitment of Australian forces. In November he admitted privately that he wished to withdraw Australian troops, but his party would never accept it. The fact of conscription added greatly to his difficulties. The regular public dramas concerning the prosecution of young men who refused to respond to call-up notices, and a heavy-handed attempt to amend the National Service Act in late 1968 created considerable public unease. By August 1969 a Gallup poll recorded for the first time a majority opposed to Australian participation in the war. At the House of Representatives election, held on 25 October, the Gorton Government fared badly, losing sixteen seats; its majority was reduced to seven. A poll taken after the election suggested that ‘The electorate was being alienated not by the war itself so much as the combination of conscription and Vietnam’. In April 1970 Gorton announced the first Australian troop withdrawal: a battalion returning in November would not be replaced.[17]

By 1969 the stresses of office were showing in Gorton’s public behaviour. His drinking had increased, and sometimes the effects were obvious. There were moments of bitterness, such as when he described journalists as ‘slimy white things that crawl out of sewers’. His speech, once exemplary in its clarity and bluntness, descended, at times, into remarkable convolutions, and became the subject of effective parody by the Leader of the Opposition, Gough Whitlam. Gorton’s mode of operation as a minister had been to absorb himself totally in his portfolio, and not to concern himself overmuch with issues beyond it. By his own admission, he had come to the prime ministership with no experience of sixteen major policy areas. In domestic policy, his ministry’s ameliorative efforts in social welfare and health could not match Whitlam’s broader social vision. During the 1969 campaign, Gorton mocked Whitlam’s proposal of national assistance for sewerage works, suggesting that Whitlam sounded more like a shire president than an aspiring prime minister. Gorton, himself a former shire president, failed to understand that the quality of services available to those living in expanding towns and cities was now a national issue.[18]

After the 1969 election, Gorton faced a leadership challenge from McMahon, and from David Fairbairn, the Minister for National Development, who had resigned from the ministry in November over the issue of offshore sovereignty. Gorton narrowly defeated McMahon. The Senate election, twelve months later, saw the primary vote for the non-Labor parties fall to its lowest level since 1943. The expectations held in 1968 that Gorton would be successful in the polls were not realised. The final crisis came suddenly on 8 March 1971. Malcolm Fraser, Minister for Defence, and regarded hitherto as a Gorton supporter, resigned in protest at Gorton’s failure to deny a press report that the Chief of the General Staff, Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Daly, in a meeting with the Prime Minister, had accused Fraser of disloyalty to the army. In his resignation speech to Parliament, Fraser denounced Gorton’s ‘dangerous reluctance to consult Cabinet’, and his ‘obstinate determination to get his own way’. He concluded that Gorton was not fit to be prime minister. Gorton, who had talked with Fraser the previous evening and was given no hint of what was to come, never forgave him. The next day, 10 March, the Parliamentary Liberal Party met. A vote of confidence in Gorton was tied at thirty-three all. Gorton, as chairman, made a casting vote against himself. His vote was invalid, though few understood this at the time. It made no difference. Gorton knew that his party was hopelessly divided, and he ‘had had enough’.

William McMahon was then elected as the new leader. Perversely, Gorton nominated for the post of deputy leader, and was elected. McMahon was sworn in as Prime Minister on the same day, and one of his first acts was to appoint Gorton to succeed Fraser as Minister for Defence. This was Gorton’s wish. The uneasy and unlikely partnership of McMahon and Gorton lasted just five months, from March to August 1971. During August and September 1971, in response to Alan Reid’s hostile The Gorton Experiment, Gorton published, in the Sunday Australian, a series of articles giving his own version of the major events of his prime ministership, which included implied criticisms of McMahon. After the publication of the first article, Gorton was sacked from the ministry on 13 August; he resigned from the deputy leadership four days later.[19]

Gorton remained in Parliament and, in January 1973, under new leader Billy Snedden, he was appointed Opposition spokesman for the Environment, including urban and regional development, and conservation. At Snedden’s request, he gave up the position following the election of May 1974. In October 1973 Gorton moved a successful motion in support of the decriminalisation of homosexual acts between consenting adults in private. In May 1975, angered and disillusioned by the deposition of Snedden as party leader in favour of Malcolm Fraser, Gorton announced his resignation from the Liberal Party, and his intention to contest a Senate seat in the ACT at the next election, standing as an independent. He was outraged by the dismissal of the Whitlam Government by the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, in November 1975. Having argued, twenty-two years earlier, that the Senate should be deprived of the power to reject supply, Gorton made this issue the central point of his campaign, and on 8 December 1975 was quoted in the Canberra Times as saying he wanted to see a Labor majority in the House of Representatives. He was easily defeated at the double dissolution election on 13 December by John Knight and Susan Ryan.[20]

From 1977 until 1981 Gorton was a radio commentator. Heard on over eighty commercial radio stations throughout Australia, he ranged far and wide from high politics to popular culture, and became an official patron of the National Organisation for Reform of Marijuana Laws. From 1981 he lived quietly and largely out of the public spotlight. After the death of his wife, Betty, in October 1983, Gorton lived alone at Narrabundah. He could often be seen ambling about the streets with his dog. On 24 July 1993, at St Michael’s Anglican Church, Vaucluse, Sydney, he married Nancy Helen Home, whose first husband was an officer on HMAS Voyager when the ship sank in 1964. Gorton moved to Nancy’s home in Vaucluse.

Gorton was appointed Companion of Honour in 1971, GCMG in 1977 and a Companion of the Order of Australia in 1988. In July 1999, at a function at Old Parliament House attended by the Prime Minister, John Howard, Gorton was welcomed back into the Liberal Party and made a life member. His last public appearance was at the launch of Ian Hancock’s biography, John Gorton: He Did It His Way, in March 2002. Gorton died at his home on 19 May that year, survived by Nancy and his three children. Cremated privately, he was given a state memorial service at St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney, attended by Whitlam, Fraser and Bob Hawke. Tom Hughes, Gorton’s former Attorney-General, delivered a eulogy that savaged Fraser’s conduct in 1971. An appropriately rakish and informal portrait of Gorton, painted by June Mendoza, hangs in Parliament House, Canberra.[21]

Geoffrey Browne

[1] Don Whitington, Twelfth Man?, Jacaranda Press, Milton, Qld, 1972, p. 142; Australian (Syd.), 16 Mar. 2002, pp. 14, 19; Ian Hancock, John Gorton: He Did It His Way, Hodder, Sydney, 2002, pp. 1–8.

[2] Hancock, John Gorton, pp. 8–9, 11–12, 14–18, 21–2, 27–8; The author acknowledges the assistance of Welwyn Petersen, Archivist, Shore School, Sydney, Michael Collins Persse, Curator and Keeper of the Archives, Geelong Grammar School, Philip Kouvaritakis, Administrator, Student Record Office, Oxford University, and Elizabeth Boardman, College Archivist, Brasenose College.

[3] Hancock, John Gorton, pp. 29–31, 37, 39; Alan Trengove, John Grey Gorton: An Informal Biography, Cassell Australia, North Melbourne, 1969, p. 143; Sir John Grey Gorton, Transcript of oral history interview with Clarrie Hermes, 1985, POHP, TRC 4900/47, NLA, p. 2:9; Gorton, John Grey—Defence Service Record, A9300, 400793, Casualty file, A705, 163/34/154, NAA; Ray Bennett, ‘Sir John Grey Gorton: From War-Time Pilot to PM’, Royal Australian Air Force Annual, 2002, pp. 29–33; Philip Russell (comp.), Old Geelong Grammarians at War, Philip Russell, Ocean Grove, Vic., 1996, p. 190; Robert Piper, Great Air Escapes: The Heroes Who Beat the Odds, Pagemasters, Richmond, Vic., 1991, pp. 23–9.

[4] Hancock, John Gorton, p. 43; Gorton, Transcript, pp. 2:12–13; Kerang New Times, 9 Apr. 1946, p. 1, 18 Apr. 1946, p. 3, 13 Sept. 1946, p. 1, 19 Aug. 1952, p. 4, 16 Sept. 1949, p. 1; The editor is indebted to Julie Smith, Gannawarra Shire Council Library; Kerang New Times, 26 Sept. 1947, p. 1; Whitington, Twelfth Man?, p. 134; Age (Melb.), 23 Mar. 1949, p. 3.

[5] CPD, 1 Mar. 1950, p. 205; Hancock, John Gorton, pp. 66, 68–9; CPD, 1 May 1957, p. 527, 16 Sept. 1954, pp. 373–6, 11 Aug. 1954, pp. 151–2, 28 Nov. 1951, p. 2863, 30 Sept. 1954, p. 654; Age (Melb.), 25 Aug. 1953, p. 2.

[6] Whitington, Twelfth Man?, p. 135; Trengove, John Grey Gorton, pp. 148–9; Hancock, John Gorton, p. 92; Gorton, Transcript, pp. 3:10, 6:18–19, 9:18; Jenny Hocking, Lionel Murphy: A Political Biography, CUP, Cambridge, 1997, p. 87; Barry Jones, A Thinking Reed, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, NSW, 2006, p. 186; Herald (Melb.), 24 Oct. 1958, p. 7.

[7] Robert Hyslop, A Very Civil Servant: An Australian Memoir, Clarion Editions, Binalong, NSW, 1998, pp. 123–4; Hancock, John Gorton, pp. 83–9; CPD, 19 Nov. 1959, pp. 1694–8, 26 Nov. 1959, pp. 1908–15, 28 Nov. 1959, pp. 2040–1; CT, 4 Oct. 1983, p. 3; Press release, ‘Mrs John Gorton, Wife of the Prime Minister of Australia’, Mar. 1968, Gorton file, CPL.

[8] W. F. Connell, Reshaping Australian Education 1960–1985, Australian Council for Educational Research, Hawthorn, Vic., 1993, p. 105; CPD, 5 Mar. 1964, pp. 265–7, 19 May 1964, pp. 1244–6, 24 Mar. 1965, pp. 69–71; CPP, 132/1965; Kerang New Times, 24 Aug. 1948, p. 2.

[9] CPD, 25 Oct. 1967, p. 1665; Ian Hancock, The V.I.P. Affair 1966–67: The Causes, Course and Consequences of a Ministerial and Public Service Cover-up, Australasian Study of Parliament Group, Canberra, 2004, pp. 55, 79; SMH, 31 Oct. 1967, p. 2; Whitington, Twelfth Man?, pp. 138–9, 141; Hancock, John Gorton, pp. 142–3, 147; Australian (Syd.), 10 Jan. 1968, p. 1.

[10] Paul Hasluck, The Chance of Politics, Text Publishing Company, Melbourne, 1997, pp. 174, 177; The editor acknowledges the assistance of Margot Harker; Alan Reid, The Gorton Experiment, Shakespeare Head Press, Sydney, 1971, pp. 10, 12, 289; Peter Golding, Black Jack McEwen: Political Gladiator, MUP, Carlton South, Vic., 1996, pp. 297–8; Maximilian Walsh, ‘You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet’, Quadrant (Syd.), Nov.–Dec. 1968, p. 17; S. Encel, ‘The Larrikin Leaders’, in K. S. Inglis (ed.), Nation: The Life of an Independent Journal of Opinion 1958–1972, MUP, Carlton, Vic., 1989, pp. 175–8; James Killen, Killen: Inside Australian Politics, Methuen Haynes, North Ryde, NSW, 1985, p. 142; Hancock, John Gorton, pp. 150, 402; Bulletin (Syd.), 9 Apr. 2002, p. 31; Trengove, John Grey Gorton, p. 115.

[11] Bulletin (Syd.), 8 Mar. 1969, p. 19; Hancock, John Gorton, p. 162.

[12] Peter Edwards, A Nation at War: Australian Politics, Society and Diplomacy During the Vietnam War 1965–1975, Allen & Unwin in association with the Australian War Memorial, St Leonards, NSW, 1997, pp. 192–8; Australian (Syd.), 30 May 1968, p. 1; Golding, Black Jack McEwen, pp. 294–6; Bulletin (Syd.), 8 Mar. 1969, pp. 16, 18.

[13] Australian (Syd.), 23 Sept. 1968, p. 1; Sunday Australian (Syd.), 22 Aug. 1971, p. 10, 12 Sept. 1971, p. 6; CPD, 26 Nov. 1968 (R), pp. 3226–8; Sunday Australian (Syd.), 15 Aug. 1971, p. 11; CPD, 10 Oct. 1968 (R), pp. 1871–2, 19 Nov. 1968 (R), pp. 2984–5.

[14] The editor acknowledges the assistance of Barry Jones; Press release, ‘Statement by the Prime Minister, Mr. John Gorton’, 13 Aug. 1969, PM no. 67/1969; CPD, 31 May 1973 (R), p. 2942, 28 Aug. 1973 (R), pp. 413–14; ‘Aboriginal Affairs: Address by the Prime Minister the Rt Hon. John Gorton at the Conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers Responsible for Aboriginal Affairs at Parliament House, Melbourne’, 12 July 1968, Pam., NLA; Hancock, John Gorton, pp. 213, 387; Cabinet submissions 558 and 759 and decisions 1079 and 1257 of 1969, A5873, 1079 and 1257, A5868, 558 and 759, NAA.

[15] Sunday Australian (Syd.), 12 Sept. 1971, p. 6; Age (Melb.), 20 Apr. 1970, p. 7.

[16] Peter Howson, The Howson Diaries: The Life of Politics, ed. Don Aitkin, Viking Press, Ringwood, Vic., 1984, pp. 436, 463, 471, 476, 533, 550, 639; CPD, 20 Mar. 1969 (R), pp. 790–3; Hancock, John Gorton, pp. 62, 214–16.

[17] ‘Higgins By-Election Campaign Opening Speech by the Prime Minister, Mr. John Gorton’, Caulfield Town Hall, Melbourne, 13 Feb. 1968, Gorton file, CPL; Hancock, John Gorton, pp. 179, 215; Australian (Syd.), 21 May 2002, p. 10; Edwards, A Nation at War, pp. 183, 217–18, 235; CPD, 22 Apr. 1970 (R), pp. 1456–9.

[18] Graham Freudenberg, A Certain Grandeur: Gough Whitlam in Politics, Macmillan, South Melbourne, 1977, p. 162; Jones, A Thinking Reed, p. 190; Gough Whitlam, The Whitlam Government 1972–1975, Viking, Ringwood, Vic., 1985, p. 714; Graham Freudenberg, A Figure of Speech: A Political Memoir, John Wiley & Sons Australia, Milton, Qld, 2005, pp. 105–6.

[19] Australian (Syd.), 8 Nov. 1969, p. 1; Age (Melb.), 31 Oct. 1969, p. 1; Australian (Syd.), 9 Mar. 1971, p. 1; CPD, 9 Mar. 1971 (R), pp. 679–84; Hancock, John Gorton, pp. 320, 327, 336; Australian (Syd.), 11 Mar. 1971, p. 1, 13 Aug. 1971, p. 1; Sunday Australian (Syd.), 15 Aug. 1971, p. 1.

[20] SMH, 9 Jan. 1973, p. 1; Hancock, John Gorton, p. 372; CPD, 18 Oct. 1973 (R), pp. 2327–30; CT, 24 May 1975, p. 1, 14 Nov. 1975, p. 8, 8 Dec. 1975, p. 1.

[21] Hancock, John Gorton, pp. 384–5, 390–4; National Times (Syd.), 15–21 Nov. 1981, p. 3; Herald Sun (Melb.), 4 July 1999, p. 26; Age (Melb.), 19 Mar. 2002, p. 6; CT, 25 May 2002, p. D18; Age (Melb.), 1 June 2002, p. 5.

This biography was first published in The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, vol. 3, 1962-1983, University of New South Wales Press Ltd, Sydney, 2010, pp. 17-27.

GORTON, Sir John Grey (1911–2002)

National Archives of Australia

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator for Victoria, 1950–68

Member of the House of Representatives for Higgins, Vic., 1968–75

Prime Minister, 1968–71

Minister for the Navy, 1958–63

Minister Assisting the Minister for External Affairs, 1960–63

Minister in Charge of the CSIRO, 1962–63

Minister for the Interior, 1963–64

Minister in Charge of Commonwealth Activities in Education and Research under the Prime Minister, 1963–66

Minister for Works, 1963–67

Minister for Education and Science, 1966–68

Minister for Defence, 1971

Leader of the Government in the Senate, 1967–68

Senate Committee Service

Printing Committee, 1950–56

Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, 1952–58

Standing Orders Committee, 1967–68

Joint Select Committee on the New and Permanent Parliament House, 1968–70

Joint Committee on Prices, 1973–74